Mahmud Salhiya was useless to climb on Monday to the roof of his house in East Jerusalem with gas cylinders and diesel drums ready to blow them up to prevent the eviction of his family. “We will not go. Before we die, “he warned. A hundred Israeli policemen broke into the house in the early hours of this Wednesday to expel its inhabitants – a dozen members of a family clan, including children and the elderly – amid the rain that fell with sub-zero temperatures on the City. Holy.
The agents were executing a court order issued last year, urged in 2017 by the municipality to expropriate the land in order to build public facilities in Sheikh Yarrah, the eastern district that has drawn the attention of the international community in recent months due to the threat of forced eviction of hundreds of Palestinian residents.
A bulldozer razed the house shortly after, in which 18 people were arrested after the launch of stun grenades and attempts at confrontation, according to video recordings of the events. All have been charged with violating a court order and disturbing public order, according to a police statement. Along with the members of the Salhiya clan were five Israeli peace activists who had also locked themselves in the house since Monday.
The journalists and Western diplomats – led by a delegation from the European Union – who accompanied them in the last two days to observe the events had left on Tuesday at nightfall. All were awaiting the resolution of a petition that the neighbors’ lawyers were finalizing before the Israeli Supreme Court to stop the launch.
The Salhiya family alleges that they acquired the property in the early 1950s in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian administration, after fleeing their home in an area near Jerusalem in the face of advancing troops from the newborn Jewish state. . The Israeli Army occupied the eastern part of the city in 1967 and annexed it later, in a decision taken without the endorsement of the international community. Julud Badawi, spokesperson for the American NGO Human Rights Watch in Jerusalem warned on Twitter that the expulsion of this family and the demolition of their house, in occupied Palestinian territory, amount to a “war crime”, according to international humanitarian law.
Sheikh Yarrah, a residential district located north of the walled Old City and which concentrates the headquarters of several consulates, including that of Spain, has become a symbol of resistance to the Israeli colonization of the eastern part of Jerusalem, where they live. some 350,000 Palestinians (a third of the city’s population) along with more than 200,000 Israeli settlers. Last May, in the midst of the largest wave of protests against the occupation recorded in recent years in the Holy City, the mobilization of this neighborhood prompted the firing of Hamas rockets from Gaza and the beginning of an armed conflict between the Israeli Army and the Islamist militias of the Palestinian Strip.
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The anti-occupation organization Free Jerusalem accused Israel on its Facebook page of having provoked “an escalation in the policy of expropriation of Palestinian homes”, executed in the middle of the night “to hide from the world actions of racism and usurpation without the presence of activists, journalists and diplomats.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told the Hebrew press that the Salhiya family was illegally occupying land without title and that the City Council had expropriated it to build an educational center. Israeli police, in a joint statement with municipal authorities, said they had simply enforced a court order after having offered “countless opportunities for the family to vacate the land of their own free will.”
The legal battle of an entire neighborhood
Half a thousand residents of Sheikh Jarrah have been litigating for more than 15 years to challenge their eviction. His mobilization in the district, amplified through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, has transformed his actions into an intelligible icon on a global scale – that of someone who fights to be able to continue in his own home – for the Palestinian cause. Most live in a tree-lined valley of 74 buildings located just over a kilometer from the historic walled area. About 3,000 Palestinians living in some two hundred buildings in East Jerusalem are awaiting eviction, according to the Israeli peace NGO Peace Now.
A radical nationalist group that promotes the settlement of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem acquired title to Sheikh Jarrah three decades ago from a religious foundation that had bought the land more than a century ago, under Ottoman administration, to set up a shrine next to the tomb of Simon the Just, high priest of antiquity.
While the rights of Jewish owners to recover their abandoned property do not expire under Israeli law, those of Palestinians in Israeli-controlled territory expired shortly after their departure. They passed into the hands of the State —in the so-called custody of absentee property—, which has usually ceded them to Jewish Israeli families and entities.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.